Election experts have warned that the ban on using mobile phones at polling stations, police tendency to disrupt the opposition as well as the unpredictable biometric technology could have negative consequences, writes EDWARD SSEKIKA.
As anxiety grips the country ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections tomorrow, several observers have predicted that voter turnout, the conduct of the Electoral Commission [EC] and security situation, among others, will be crucial in determining the outcome.
VOTER TURNOUT CRUCIAL
A win for President Museveni will extend his 30-year rule by another five years, while a victory for opposition will usher in a new chapter in Uganda’s history.
Godber Tumushabe, a policy analyst and associate director at Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (Gliss), believes there are likely to be two outcomes; the genuine outcome and the rigged one. “The vigilance of the voters to ensure rigging and intimidation is minimized will be very crucial,” he argues. “If there is a higher voter turnout, it will probably favour the opposition – mainly Dr Kizza Besigye or Amama Mbabazi.”
In 2011, the voter turnout declined to 59.3 per cent from 69.7 per cent in 2006. Tumushabe is optimistic of a higher turnout given the fact that there is a general agitation for change and many candidates have been able to reach out to the rural population.
EC PHONE BAN UNDER SCRUTINY
The EC character will be very fundamental. He argues that if the commission continues to flip-flop and send different signals, it will be dangerous to the credibility of the election. Already, the voting time has been narrowed down to from 7am to 4pm.
Tumushabe argues that EC’s ban in the use of phone at polling stations is unfortunate. “If the commission doesn’t lift the ban, then it is bad enough to affect the credibility and integrity of not only the electoral process but also the results. The ban is silly, but many silly things happen in this country,” he explains.
BIOMETRIC TECHNOLOGY UNDER SPOTLIGHT
Peter Walubiri, a renowned constitutional lawyer, says biometric voting is likely to affect the outcome. Though the EC says it takes a matter of seconds for the biometric kit to verify a voter’s features, Walubiri argues that it takes an average of three minutes.
So, if one is to go by Walubiri’s assertion, this would mean that only 20 voters will cast their ballots per hour. This equates to 200 voters in the allotted 10 hours of voting time [7am to 4pm]. In countries, where biometric machines have been used, there have been issues of malfunctioning and delays to verify voters’ features.
Going by the EC records, an average polling station has more than 400 voters. “The sluggishness in biometric machines means that at the end of the day, only a third of the voters will be able to cast their ballots unless voting is extended,” he said.
“Whoever dreamt of bringing biometric machines here, coupled with a reduction in voting time, is courting disaster. By 11am on the polling day, the EC is likely to receive many complaints and will either abandon the biometric machines or extend voting to the following day,” predicts Walubiri. “The latter will cause more tension.”
He also explains that social media is likely to boost voter turnout, especially among the youth, in case it is not disabled on the day.
STERN TEST FOR LAW ENFORCERS
Dr Sabiti Makara, a senior lecturer in the department of political science and public administration at Makerere University, anticipates dangerous scenarios.
“The behavior of the police and other security agencies is critical. You saw what happened yesterday [Monday], police is partisan and is acting as if the opposition does not exist. Violence can turn off voters,” he said.
Makara further argues that the EC needs to redeem itself. He said that comments from the EC are biased and reinforce a general view that the commission is biased in favour of President Museveni. While appearing on NTV on Monday, EC chairman Badru Kiggundu castigated Besigye’s defiance campaign and justified his arrest on Monday as he tried to campaign in Kampala Central.
“If I had a strong law, I would have refused to nominate Dr Besigye as a candidate because of his defiance massage,” he said. Kiggundu’s statements have left many Ugandans wondering; if he regrets nominating Besigye, how can he announce him as a winner?
Tumushabe concurs, that the EC may lack the courage to announce genuine results. He says many voters have already been disenfranchised. He explains that many voters have been transferred from the polling stations where they registered to new ones without their knowledge.
Therefore, some voters could give up voting. “It is not the first time this is happening and perhaps it explains the lower voter turnout in the 2011 elections,” he said